RICE FARMING IN NONG CHAI WAN
Open-Mind Projects not only assists international volunteers with lessons in language and culture, but also trains locals from Thailand and Laos. These trainees live at volunteer headquarters in Nong Khai, and teach us basic vocabulary and culture to survive in a foreign environment.
My placement is in Nong Khai, so I live with the trainees in the Open-Mind Projects premises. Every morning they sit with me for an hour to study English. My focus is to correct pronunciation, and because this involves using the tongue in positions unknown to them, their mouths hurt towards the lesson’s conclusion.
Open-Mind Projects pays for the tertiary education of one of the trainees, named Moss, who is studying computer technology. He grew up in Nong Chai Wan, a rice farming village 65 km from Nong Khai.
On the weekend, Moss returned to his parents’ home to assist with rice planting. He was accompanied by four trainees, and me.
A coach was boarded for the neighboring province of Udonthani. It was so crowded people had to stand in the aisle. Some of the novices I taught at the temple school sat at the back, and smiled when they recognized me. We disembarked to ride another bus, also overfilled with passengers. At nightfall, our group arrived at its destination, after a third vehicle drove us through many villages.
Moss’s parents and relatives greeted us, and laid straw mats on the tiles in preparation for dinner. We sat in a circle, as a variety of dishes were presented. Sticky rice, pressed into a ball with the fingers, accompanied the meal.
The six of us slept on foam mattresses in the front room. Encountering my first squat toilet, it took me a day to realize I was facing the wrong way!
After waking the next morning, we strolled past rice farms, and ponds blossoming with lotus flowers. Upon returning, a breakfast of sticky rice, with an assortment of food was served. Then it was off to the farm, 4 km away. The utility parked adjacent to the ‘cubby house’, a resting place for farmers on the paddy fields. The children played there while their parents worked.
We tiptoed along narrow raised paths separating each field. Upon reaching the area to be worked, my feet were repeatedly stung by red ants. Feeling much pain, it was a relief to submerge my burning flesh into the water. A bunch of plants were handed to me, and I was shown how to press the roots into the mud. The villagers were amused by my presence alongside them, being the first foreigner to participate in the rice planting process. Much laughter erupted as they observed my attempts. After three-quarters of an hour, my back hurt, and concern grew within me about the correctness of work completed. The hope is that at harvest time, in four months, no barren strip will be evident in my place! They plant only twice a year, so I was lucky to be in Thailand during this amazing ritual.
Rice is the life blood of Thailand, and accompanies every meal. Therefore, it is important not to throw it away, and to eat every last grain on your plate.
After the fields were planted, the farmers returned to the ‘cubby house’, where lunch was cooked and served with sticky rice. It was one large jovial family, as we sat upon straw mats, and viewed paddy fields, now full of new shoots.
The trainees shared their weekend with me, and were forced to speak English, owing to my limited Thai. Amazingly, communication was not a problem. The village children also enjoyed showing off their ability, picked up from language studies at school. Sometimes, it’s good to get out of the classroom, and learn from casual social interaction.
On Sunday, the villagers piled onto the back of a utility, and drove us to volunteer headquarters in Nong Khai. It was a sentimental farewell for all, and a weekend we will never forget.